I love shoes.

I used to pride myself on the fact that I could go for nearly a month and NOT wear the same pair of shoes twice (excepting those which were purpose designated… running shoes, basketball shoes, flip-flops…) Sometimes, if I was feeling down, I would look in my closet at the shelves that the ex made for me specifically to hold my shoes. It would inevitably (inappropriately) cheer me up. I had black shoes, brown shoes, tall shoes, slightly less tall shoes, soft shoes, clunky shoes, sparkly shoes, sharp shoes, scary shoes, delicate shoes, functional shoes, trendy shoes. I had them all. Someone [Allan Sherman] once said, “If you want to fall in love with a shoe, go ahead. A shoe can’t love you back, but, on the other hand, a shoe can’t hurt you too deeply either. And there are so many nice looking shoes.” Seemed like a good philosophy to me.

And then one day I left my shoes because I had to go away and I could not take them with me. I had to choose. How does one choose a single pair of shoes? What about all the possible scenarios that could arise that would make that pair of gorgeous, supple, grape colored, spike heel, Italian boots simply indispensable? What then? Gloria Steinem said, “If the shoe doesn’t fit, must we change the foot?” I think maybe the foot just needs a new purpose; keep the shoe [in storage], keep the foot [in action], head in a new direction.

My life in Asia has been a veritable shoe desert. While there are lots of available shoes in Asia, they just aren’t my type, you know? They are generally too small, too expensive, or too ridiculous. [I am aware of the potential metaphors here, and yes, they too apply.] The shoes I have purchased are absolutely over the top in the silly category, and will probably end up in my costume box when I come home, or on the feet of my best friends daughters as the play dress up… these are street market shoes, but evidence of my love of shoes none the less. Every time I manage to come across a pair of shoes that actually do fit my big old American feet, I balk at buying them for the cost, I am just not excited to pay for Chanel pumps or Gucci boots. And then I say, ‘Later, A… Later… what do you need those shoes for now? You don’t even dress nice here….’ When I came to Asia I thought I would be a ‘traveler’ so I really needed functional shoes more than anything; but the functional shoe crowd turned out to not be the one for me. I prefer the rational shoe options crowd. But hanging out with them I started to feel like Clarisse from The Silence of the Lambs: “You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube. A well scrubbed, hustling rube with a little taste. Good nutrition’s given you some length of bone, but…”

 I finally did buy some shoes for work because my favorite Enzo Angiolini loafers were looking to beat up to make it another step. I was desperate to find a pair of similarly functional, decent looking black shoes. The big name western stores were out because IF they had anything that resembled subtlety, and IF they had the one pair that had been ordered in a size *gasp*10, it would be stupidly expensive and then I would feel annoyed every time I wore them for having spent the amount of money that would fly me to anywhere in SE Asia for a pair of strikingly unexciting shoes. [Note: For some reason I do still have the ability to spend a stupid amount of money on a pair of shoes that I will likely wear only once, if that, because they are ‘unique.’ I have no answer for why this is so. I hope it is not a sign of early dementia.]

I ended up with a pair of Ecco loafer/pump type things which I hate. I am not sure if I hated them initially or not, but I hate them now. Yet I still wear them. And no one says anything about them, which I find fascinating because I was so sure everyone was always commenting on my fabulous array of shoe variety in my past life, and saying how wonderful I was for having such amazing and interesting and fabulous shoes. Is it possible that they were not? Is it possible that my footwear is not that fundamental to those around me? Or maybe people here are just being polite to their resident ‘Clarisse’? I realize that Michelangelo said, “What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe…” But did they even wear shoes then? I thought this almost blasphemous coming from an Italian.

I have worn this same pair of shoes to work everyday for a year. And while I am prone to exaggeration, here I am not. Everyday. One pair of shoes. I do not like them. But somehow, I no longre really notice them unless I am feeling really down and have no fabulous collection of shoes to go peruse and cheer me up. Now I have to do other things to cheer myself up. I have basically spent the better part of a year in one pair of shoes. The Chinese have a proverb that says ‘reshape ones foot to try to fit into a new shoe,’ and foot-binding aside, I think that the idea of changing your life to see if an unexpected, even unlikely, thing might work for you if you give it a shot is not such a bad idea.

And so here I am.

They say to really understand a person you have got to walk a mile in their shoes. And when I look down at these shoes on my feet I wonder, if these shoes could talk, what would they tell you?

Would they tell you that they have logged more nautical miles than most people do in a life time with their near daily commute by ferry? Would they tell you that they have walked in the nicest buildings and the dankest neighborhood markets in Hong Kong? Would they complain that they had to exist near brown pants though they are black? Would they comment on the number of people who have kicked them, nudged them and stomped them (hopefully inadvertently) on the MTR? Would they tell you the view has been amazing from the top deck of the bus, that the flight to Bali was easy, the flight home from Thailand not so much? Would they mention the moments of dodgy footing getting off a sampan late at night in typhoon winds? Would they mention the smell of the lobby at the Peninsula Hotel? Would they complain about running to the ATM to get money for a boyfriend in self-imposed desperate need or the frustration of waiting in line to try to reassign funds in the flurry of Asian market fear? Would they mention getting lost in Wan Chai trying to find a tiny little cafe, or accidentally knowing exactly how to get from the Foreign Correspondents Club to an out of the way restaurant in Soho? Do they count the people or the moments spent on the escalators that blanket Hong Kong? Or do they just take it all in and let the scuff marks and the worn heels tell the tale?

I am loathe to get another pair of shoes now; I don’t want to bother when these kind of frumpy, black, and painfully ’sensible’ shoes seem to be fine for their intended purposes.

And I wonder what this says about me.

There is a Persian proverb that says ”tis the same to him who wears a shoe, as if the whole earth were covered with leather.’ And I am glad that I have not allowed the protective embrace of my shoes to deny me the innumerable experiences I have had since I left them behind.

*But I still do feel beter to know they are waiting for me in a storage unit in Reno when I am ready to put my feet up for a while.*

Amanda and her old black shoes, 37 and 1 respectively, Hong Kong

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